Ban of plastic bags discussed

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 9:45am

A movement has been started to eliminate or at least reduce the presence of single-use plastic bags on the island. The obstacles in achieving this goal are many, including the fact that these bags are convenient, inexpensive and quite often brought over from the mainland.

That did not deter 30 or so members of the public from attending a recent Planning Board meeting, many of whom were in favor of the ban, and some of whom pointed out the challenges such a ban would present. The Planning Board issued a newly drafted ordinance about a plastic bag ban for public comment, which would not go into place until 2018.

“I’m here to voice my husband’s and my support for our very real enthusiasm for this,” said resident Jane Emsbo. “It’s good for the island in so many ways,” and said it was in keeping with the spirit of the Wind Farm and the conservation movement. “We should spread the term: Block Island, the Green Island.”

Resident Cameron Greenlee, who is a founder of Conserfest — a conservation initiative that culminates in a series of concerts during the summer to raise ecological awareness — said that “other communities and Europe have instituted this (ban) without too much trouble.” He added that the Conserfest organizers “would be willing to use its fundraising tools to help support the program” of getting rid of the bags. 

Mary Jane Balser, one of the owners of the Block Island Grocery, said that eliminating the plastic bags would put a strain on her already-precarious bottom line. She stated that business throughout the winter was traditionally slow, but she elicited the most amusing moment during the hearing when she turned to the crowd and said, “I don’t see many of these faces in my store” in the winter. That caused a sea of hands to go up and some comedic groaning, with many people saying they’re in the store multiple times each day.

And then Planning Board member Sam Bird said to Balser, to much laughter, “I don’t see your face in your store in the winter.”

After a moment, Balser said, “The problem is, we’re not going to stop what’s coming from the mainland.” She said that multiple-use bags were attractive but too expensive to use for anyone doing a lot of shopping at the store. “People have 15, 20, 30 bags of things. I cannot say to them, ‘That’s a lovely bag, but you’ll need to buy 20 of them.’” 

Planning Board member Sven Risom asked Balser — who repeatedly said she was in favor of reducing the number of plastic bags on the island if it could be done in a reasonable way — “How do we get there? Do we charge for the (plastic) bags? Do we say to people who come here to bring their bags?” 

“If I start charging people for the (single-use) bags, then there will be no one in the store,” she said. Balser said part of the problem with the Planning Board’s proposal was that the definition of reusable bags was too complicated. Board Chair Margie Comings said the definitions were in draft form.

“I want to say that we are a community that wants to work together to get things done,” said Wendy Crawford, who is a licensed real estate agent on the island. She said the real estate community would be happy to provide reusable bags to renters, and get the word out that single-use bags were frowned upon.

Resident Arlene Tunney also was in favor, adding that “I would suggest banning balloons as well,” which received vocal approval from those in the audience.

Mary Stover, who is also a real estate agent, called the plastic bags a “convenience that never disintegrates. Plastic is a one-time use that never leaves the planet. It does not disintegrate.” Stover said that recycling has its benefits, but the real goal should be the elimination of plastic altogether.

“It’s time,” said resident Kim Gaffett. “There’s no reason for us not to do this. Definitely pursue this as far as you can, as fast as you can.”

Planning Board Chair Margie Comings said the next step would be to talk to members of the restaurant community. “This is a trend across the U.S., not just in Rhode Island,” she said.

“Water bottles are next,” said Planning Board member John Spier.